Welcome to the very first virtual museum exhibition of the National Deaf Life Museum!  

The Olof Hanson, Conspicuous Leader, 1862-1933 exhibition was featured at the Weyerhaeuser Family Art Gallery and Exhibition Hall in the I. King Jordan Student Academic Center at Gallaudet University in the fall of 2009 and replaced during the summer of 2011 with the current exhibition, Making a Difference: Deaf Peace Corps Volunteers.  It is now possible to virtually experience the Olof Hanson exhibition.

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Please note that the images are copyrighted, please obtain permission to use them.

To enhance your virtual museum experience, you are welcome to download the PDF format of the Olof Hanson exhibition guide. 

Please note that the images are copyrighted; contact museum@gallaudet.edu for permission for use or questions.


Photo of Olof Hanson in post-Civil War Era.  Following the Civil War, many Americans of Protestant northern and western European heritage became concerned about the increase of immigrants from other regions. During this era, there was a strong push for immigrants to assimilate by learning English. For deaf people, this movement was reflected in the expectation of speaking English, being educated through the oral method instead of sign language, and being dissuaded from marrying other deaf people. With these pressures, Olof Hanson emerged as a conspicuous leader in the deaf community, responding to the changes and shaping the future. As an architect, advocate, and man of faith and family, the life of Olof Hanson reflects some of the struggles that deaf people faced during his lifetime.

Architect. Olof Hanson, 1862-1933. Born in Fjalkinge, Sweden, Olof Hanson immigrated with his family to Willmar, Minnesota in 1875. Hanson lost his hearing gradually and became profoundly deaf at age 13. At the age of 16, he enrolled at the Minnesota Institute for Deaf, Dumb, and Blind and graduated three years later. In fall of 1881, Hanson began his studies as a student at the National Deaf-Mute College, now known as Gallaudet University.

Photo of Olof Hanson's Office. Hanson's office was on the second floor of this building in Faribault, Minnesota. Note Olof Hanson's name on the middle window. 













Photo of interior of Olof Hanson's office, Faribault, Minnesota, circa 1895-1901. During his forty years of architectural work, Hanson designed more than 100 buildings including stores, churches, private residences,hotels, and buildings for state residential schools for the deaf children in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Mississippi. Employment Opportunities for deaf people in the nineteenth century were for the most part limited to trades taught in state residential schools for the deaf children. Boys were trained in tailoring, printing, and shoe repair; girls were taught sewing, cooking,and housekeeping skills. The founding of the National Deaf-Mute College in Washington, D.C. offered a select few deaf and hard of hearing students a chance to pursue higher education and to explore new employment opportunities.

Hanson trained with Hodgson and Sons architectural firm and received his master's degree in architectural studies from the National Deaf-Mute College in 1889. It is generally believed that Hanson is the first recorded deaf architect in the United States.Photo of one of private residences which Hanson designed. After Hanson's death, the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places registered four of his buildings, including the residence of J.L. Noyes in Faribault, Minnesota. The building was designed in 1896.








A quiet, unassuming, scholarly man, he was a wise counselor and a devotee of high standards. Rev. Guilbert C. Braddock, Silent Missionary, 1933.

Photo of Building on Gallaudet Campus Olof Hanson designed. Hanson was the first deaf architect to design a building for the National Deaf-Mute College. Construction was completed in 1895, and the building served as a dormitory for boys of the Kendall School students until 1953. The building, still standing, is known as Dawes House. Ground-breaking ceremony by Edward Minor Gallaudet for building designed by Olof Hanson. In 1894, the campus community gathered for the laying of the cornerstone of the Kendall School dormitory for boys. The building was designed by Hanson. In the photograph, College President Edward Miner Gallaudet appears to be signing “house.” What word do you think he is signing?











Understanding the deaf community's need for visual clarity, Hanson designed buildings with ample natural light. Hanson's design aesthetic reflected his appreciation of the Queen Anne architectural style, which can be identified by its hipped roofs with dormers, chimneys, turrets, arched doorways and windows, and the combination of bricks and shingles.

Blueprint of the dormitory for boys of the Kendall School, erected 1895.












Courthouse and Jail Juneau, Alaska Designed by Olof Hanson and Frank Thayer, 1902 Deaf Club in Minnesota which Hanson designed.











North Dakota School for the Deaf, Main Hall. Devils Lake, North Dakota Designed by Olof Hanson, 1891.

Hanson created a series of watercolors (two shown here) expressing his love of architecture and landscapes. His calm and peaceful compositions reflect the serenity of nature and often hint at the architectural structures of life. Also seen is the sense of order so valued in Victorian America.

One of Olof Hanson's painting: Study of people, circa 1889.

Olof Hanson as Advocate. The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) was established in 1880,

In 1883 the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act instituted exams and barred any applicant deemed physically or mentally unfit for employment. The U.S. Civil Service Commissioners added

Excerpt from Hanson’s letter to President Theodore Roosevelt, November 18, 1908.  	“I am myself deaf. My greatest obstacle is not my deafness, but to overcome the prejudice and ignorance of those who do not understand what the deaf can do. 	No action in reference to the deaf has caused such universal indignation among the deaf and their friends or has this ruling of the Civil Service Commission. As a sample of the feeling aroused I quote the following from Supt. Johnson of the Indiana School for the Deaf: “The whole thing is unjust! - the action of the Commission and President a backward step! – and one that is reason should be reversed.”

Secretary James Garfield’s response to Olof Hanson’s letter, December 1908.  “Dear Sir: By reference from the President, I have your letter of November 18, relative to the admission of deaf mutes to the Civil Service examinations. The President has today signed the following order: “Deaf mutes may be admitted to examination for all places in the classified civil service of the United States, whose duties, in the opinion of the Civil Service Commission, they are capable of performing.” Very truly, yours, [Signed] James Randolph Garfield Secretary”

Olof Hanson in group photo as 8th President of NAD. In 1910, Hanson became the eighth president of the National Association of the Deaf. Pictured here, he is the sixth person from the left on the second to last row.

The educational debate of teaching methodology for deaf children was a paramount issue throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth century. Concerned with successful assimilation into society, educators who supported the oral method of teaching speech and lip reading were growing in numbers. They argued that signing would limit deaf children's employment opportunities and interactions with hearing people.

One of the main challenges during Hanson's presidency of the National Association of the Deaf was to change society's perception of deaf people. He knew deaf people should be viewed as contributing citizens, not objects of charity. Peddlers, deaf or impersonating deaf individuals, presented an image that was unacceptable to Hanson and other NAD leaders. Photo of National Association of the Deaf Impostors Bureau sticker, 1917.   In 1911 Hanson  founded the Impostor Bureau encouraging state governments to pass laws prohibiting hearing people from impersonating as deaf peddlers. When Hanson’s term ended in 1913, at least five states passed laws that would make peddling, while posing as a deaf person, illegal.  The sticker says,

As the National Association of the Deaf president, Hanson wrote in 1912 a letter to Mr. Carroll G. Pearse, President of the National Education Association, advocating the use of sign language, speech, and lip-reading then known as the combined system. “You say, ‘The sign language should never be taught.’ That is where you are wrong. It is not necessary to teach signs in the school room: but the sign language should have a place in every well regulated school for chapel exercises, lectures, debates, etc. A deaf person, educated exclusively by the oral method, can never understand a sermon, or enjoy a lecture, or participate in a debate. A lecture like yours for instance can never be understood through lip-reading. But by means of the sign language it can be interpreted so that the deaf can understand it as fully as people who hear. And the sign language is the only means by which this can be done.  The deaf who use signs may get less speech, but they develop more brains.”

Man of Faith & Family

Within deaf communities, churches served as an extended family and help preserve sign language. Deaf religious leaders during Hanson’s time served not only as a link to the church and a conduit to salvation but also as a source of information. Seeking ease of communication and shared experiences, many deaf people married within the community, and in late 1800’s and early 1900’s this became a concern to many who feared the creation of a “deaf race.”  A photo of Holden Church, Mankato, Minnesota designed by Hanson, circa 1901.

As an unmarried man of 26, Hanson presented a controversial stance on deaf marriages. The emerging eugenics movement supported by Alexander Graham Bell and his colleagues argued that deaf marriages created more deaf children. Certain deaf leaders defended people’s right to marry among themselves. Hanson wrote an article titled, “The Tendency Among the Deaf to Exclusive Association With One Another” and published it in American Annals of the Deaf, Vol. 33 No. 1, January 1888. The article questioned whether it might be better for deaf people to have a hearing spouse and Hanson’s words expressed some commonly held assumptions. “One result of the tendency to exclusiveness [of the Deaf community] is the frequent marriage of the deaf with the deaf. Much might be said on this question. It is self-evident that unions should be avoided which tend to transmit the infirmity, as indicated by Professor Bell.”  “What I contend for is not a separation of the deaf from one another, but that they should have a more extended intercourse with hearing people, in order to become better citizens and more enlightened men and women.”

Hanson’s own marriage was to a deaf woman, Agatha Tiegel. Agatha taught at the Minnesota residential school for deaf children. It is not clear when and where they met. They were married on July 3, 1899 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and had three hearing daughters, Marion, Alice, and Helen.  Photograph: Agatha Tiegel Hanson, deaf and blind in one eye, was the first woman to graduate from the National Deaf-Mute College with a bachelor’s degree in 1893. She was the valedictorian of her class, a lover of literature, and an avid poet. Circa 1930’s.

Photograph Clockwise: Olof, Agatha, Alice, Helen, and Marion. A 1930’s photo of the family at their residence at 4747 16th Avenue, N.E., Seattle, Washington. The home was designed by Hanson.

In 1891, Hanson was confirmed as an adult in the Episcopal church. He became actively involved in the Episcopalian ministry as early as 1909, setting up a bible class for deaf people in Seattle. After completing his term as the National Association of the Deaf president in 1913, Hanson became more involved in the church and by 1929, was ordained.

Photograph: Hanson standing next to his house in Seattle, Washington, circa 1930. Upon his death, Hanson was one of 24 deaf priests ordained in America.

Photograph: Hanson with one of his many congregations. He travelled throughout the Pacific Northwest serving Seattle, Tacoma, Vancouver, Olympia, and Portland.

Olof Hanson was a talented architect, gifted wordsmith, a member of the clergy, and a tireless advocate for deaf people. He worked within the context of his times, both influenced by and influencing society’s perceptions on what it meant to be deaf.

Photograph: Olof Hanson reading the Oregon School for the Deaf publication, circa 1900.

“No one can measure the breadth and permanence of [Hanson’s] influence, for death does not end a life; its sway will go on radiating the lasting effects of his missionary labors in behalf of others.” Anonymous, obituary newspaper clip, Gallaudet Archives.


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